When India and Pakistan clash with one another we all have to hope that nuclear weapons fulfill the role once ascribed to them during the Cold War: a deterrent that kept both parties in check, says Peter Sturm.
The numerous conflicts in the Near and Middle East, in Korea as well as the South China Sea, have long overshadowed a conflict that has the potential to become a major war. It should not be forgotten that two nuclear powers are facing one another in the Kashmir conflict. And the rhetoric in India as well as in Pakistan does not bode well when - as is the case now - the conflict flares up again. The regularity with which the situation escalates each time both governments give signs of an easing of tensions is also very unsettling. It seems that in both countries there are simply forces that cannot be controlled by their respective governments.
Another thing that makes the situation all the more difficult is the fact that neither side can claim to have "clean hands." Pakistan must put up with accusations that it often looks the other way when militants cross the demarcation line in order to carry out bloody attacks in Kashmir or other parts of India. On the other side, the reckless behavior that Indian security forces exhibit at times does not exactly give Muslims in India the feeling that they are full-fledged members of what Indians like to call the "the world's largest democracy."
And then there is the matter of prestige. Both countries have - regardless of who was in charge - entrenched themselves in their maximum positions. In such a situation, even the slightest sign of a willingness to compromise is looked upon as high treason. Any politician that dares to propose such a course is literally putting their life on the line. Foreign attempts to exert a moderating influence on the conflicting parties are seen in India and Pakistan - as in other former colonies - as illicit attempts to interfere with internal affairs and are therefore rejected out of hand.
In light of this situation, one should probably be happy that the conflict has played out on the level of sporadic clashes to date. But the many wars fought between India and Pakistan in the past should sound a note of caution. During the East-West conflict, nuclear weapons were seen as a guarantee that things would never get entirely out of control. It is very possible that they are now fulfilling that same role in South Asia. If one could only know for sure!